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Smokefree 2030: the time to act is now

Tobacco smoking is the leading cause of cancer in Yorkshire. The Government has set a goal for the country to go smokefree by 2030 – but Yorkshire is due to miss that target by 15 years.

We look at some new recommendations which could accelerate progress and help prevent 4,500 cancers every year in our region.

Smoke moving across a black background

Smoking policy isn’t often in the news. But making headlines recently was the suggestion that the minimum age of cigarette sales should rise by one year, every year. In effect, this would ensure a whole generation of children will never be able to buy cigarettes or other tobacco products.

This is one of four key recommendations from a new review commissioned by the Government to revive progress towards its target to make England smokefree by 2030.

The ‘Making smoking obselete’ review, led by Dr Javed Khan, includes four key recommendations focused on supporting people that smoke to stop, and stopping people from starting smoking.

The three other key recommendations are:

  1. Invest an extra £125 million every year in smokefree policies to provide support to help smokers quit (including £70 million ringfenced for stop-smoking services)
  2. Offer vaping as a substitute for smoking
  3. Prioritise prevention within the NHS, with further action to provide more support to stop people smoking, across the entire NHS.

Why do we need to tackle tobacco smoking?

The direct impact of smoking on the health of people living in Yorkshire is stark. Smoking rates are higher in Yorkshire compared to any other region in England.

As a cancer charity, we want to stop people dying needlessly from cancers caused by smoking. Each year, 4,500 people in Yorkshire develop smoking-related cancer – making it the biggest preventable cause of cancer in our region.

But smoking also disproportionately affects the most deprived people in our region. People living in areas of high deprivation have worse health outcomes compared to those living in more affluent areas and have lower life expectancy.

In Yorkshire, deprivation causes an estimated 1,620 cancers each year.

The Khan review states that three in five households containing smokers living in poverty are in the North and Midlands, while fewer than one in five are in London and the South East.

Khan writes: ‘We are facing a cost of living crisis that will hit the poorest hardest. And yet too often it is those who can afford it the least who spend the most on their smoking addiction...Nearly all this money goes straight out of the local economy as tobacco industry profits or tax.

‘Once smoking is obsolete in England, over £11.4 billion will be going back into communities' and families' pockets. One million less children will live in poverty.'

That’s why Yorkshire Cancer Research wants to help more people quit smoking for good. Pressuring local and national governments to adopt strong smokefree policies is an essential part of this.

England and Yorkshire are due to miss the smokefree target (defined as when fewer than 5% of the population smoke) by a long way; at the current rate of progress in our region, we estimate we will miss the 2030 target by 15 years.

In short, without strong action on tobacco smoking, more people will get cancer who shouldn’t – and more people will die too young.

We need to change attitudes

One of the barriers in the way of going smokefree is overcoming deep-rooted attitudes and myths around smoking.

A common attitude is that the Government shouldn’t be policing people’s personal choices and their health. But smoking is not always something people can freely choose to do or not do – it is an addiction and should be treated as such with appropriate support to stop. What’s more, tobacco products are completely unique, in that no other consumer product will prematurely kill 1 in 2 people who use it.

According to a survey carried out by Action on Smoking and Health, 52% of young people (and 46% among all ages) think that government is not doing enough to limit smoking. Most smokers want to quit and try multiple times to do so.

Another common myth is that the Government is not serious about stopping smoking because of the income generated through taxes on tobacco. The truth is, while about £10 billion per year is raised through tobacco duties, the costs of smoking far outweigh this: in England, smoking costs us £17 billion every year, including more than £13 billion through lost productivity (such as loss of earnings and employment) and £2.4 billion of costs to the NHS. We all pay these costs through our taxes, while tobacco companies make huge profits from products that cause cancer. Smoking costs lives – and costs us all money too.

52% of young people

think that government is not doing enough to limit smoking.

What do we want to see happen next?

If we’re going to have any chance of reaching the Smokefree 2030 goal, we desperately need a change of strategy. The Khan review offers some clear, strong recommendations for how to achieve this.

Other recommendations include:

  • A national mass media campaign and targeted local media campaigns every year to encourage more people to quit.
  • Invest in new research and data, including commissioning further research on smoking related health disparities.
  • Introduce a tobacco license for retailers, to limit the availability of tobacco across the country.
  • Accelerate the path to prescribed vapes and provide free Swap to Stop packs in deprived communities.
  • Increase the number of smokefree places to make nosmoking normal, and protect young people from second-hand smoke.
  • Reduce appeal of smoking by changing how cigarettes and packets look, and portrayals of smoking in the media.
  • Increase investment to support pregnant women to quit smoking, and break the link between smoking and mental illness.

We believe the review is a really positive step in the right direction to help reduce the number of people who smoke, and so reduce the number of people who get cancer, in Yorkshire and the rest of the country.

It’s now over to the Government to respond to these recommendations. It has an opportunity to show how serious it is about stopping smoking in two upcoming publications: a report on Health Disparities, due later in the summer, and a long-overdue Tobacco Control Plan, which we expect will be released towards the end of this year.

Smoking policy isn’t often in the news. But the next time we see smoking making the headlines, we hope it’s because our Government will show great leadership and implement strong stop-smoking policies. There is a great opportunity to act to protect the health of the whole country and help stop people in Yorkshire and beyond from getting cancer.

Every 17 minutes someone is diagnosed with cancer in Yorkshire

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